2017 National Book Award Longlist, Nonfiction

Kevin Young

Bunk by Kevin Young Kevin Young
Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News
(Graywolf Press)

ISBN: 9781555977917

National Book Foundation: Why did you write this book?
Kevin Young: I started out a number of years ago, thinking I’d write a small meditation on hoaxes—in a way after my book The Grey Album traced lying (or what I call “storying”) as improvisation, I wanted to look at the bad side of lying. But the more I read the more I saw both that hoaxes aren’t about what people say they are and how often they were really about race.
Foundation: What’s your favorite bookstore or library?
Young: The Schomburg Shop—we are striving to be a key bookstore in Harlem!


Kevin Young traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon—the legacy of P. T. Barnum's "humbug" culminating with the currency of Donald J. Trump's "fake news." Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, with race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and "What is It?," an African-American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution. Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and frauds invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. This brilliant and timely work asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of "truthiness" where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a contagious cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.

About the Author

Kevin Young is the author of a previous work of nonfiction, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, which was a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, and the winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. He is also the author of nine books of poetry, including Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems 1995–2015, which was named to the longlist for the National Book Award; Book of Hours, which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; and Jelly Roll: A Blues, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award and for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He is the editor of many books and anthologies, including The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010 and The Best American Poetry 2011. His most recent book is Bunk. Young is the director of the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.


- WEBSITE: kevinyoungpoetry.com

- TWITTER: @Deardarkness

- FACEBOOK: facebook.com/kevinyoungpoetry

(Photo credit: Melanie Dunea)


- Amazon.com

- Barnes & Noble

- IndieBound.org

- iBooks

- WorldCat (Library catalog)